Lessons from Grace

On a sunny fall day in 2013, I received a phone call from Grace. Who is Grace, you ask? It is hard to say who Grace is to me. She is a colleague, certainly. A mentor. A friend. My personal interpreting fairy godmother. It was thanks in large part to Grace that I found myself on the pavement outside that particular central Jersey courthouse on that particular day. That’s because I had taken over her position as staff interpreter when she left for a courthouse nearer to her home. Not only had she passed the baton along to me-she had also passed on some wise advice about how to handle my new position.

My lessons from Grace didn’t begin with her counsel on how to make the most of my staff interpreting job, however. She began telling me what to do from the moment I met her. Now, I don’t generally enjoy people telling me what to do, but Grace’s tips were always spot-on, so I followed them to the letter.

“Athena, give us your phone number immediately! We should be contacting you directly, not through agencies.”

“Athena, always get to your assignment early. That’s half the job. Getting there on time.”

“Athena, keep asking those questions! I hope that brain of yours never gets bored.”

It was Grace who informed me, in 2012, that I had to take the federal certification exam.

“But Grace,” I argued, “I have just finished NJ approval. I really don’t think I’m in the mood for another exam!”

“You have to do it, Athena,” she insisted, in that way that only she can. “They only offer it once every two years. What do you have to lose?”

I followed her advice, of course. I was half hoping I would fail the written exam, because then I wouldn’t have to take the oral. But of course, once I’ve started something, I see it through to the finish, so what followed was a year-long ordeal, studying for yet another test. But…I passed it. And I certainly don’t regret that. As my friend and colleague Virginia Valencia likes to say,

“The sacrifices won’t last a lifetime…but the results will.”

(Oh, and Virginia? I met her because Grace told me in no uncertain terms that I had to get touch with her. “You two have so much in common! Have you called her yet?” she asked me again and again until finally, I did. Fast forward to 2020, where my company and hers are collaborating on the biggest undertaking I’ve ever attempted as a trainer for aspiring federal interpreters.)

So when Grace called me on that fall day in 2013, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that she had another idea in store for me.

“Athena,” she said emphatically, “I’ve given your phone number to a colleague. You don’t mind, do you? Of course not, I’m sure you don’t. She’s been trying to pass the certification exam for a while now, and I know you can help her.”

“What do you mean, help her?” I asked, a bit bewildered.

“Teach her what she needs to know! You’ll be great. I gave her your number, so you’ll be hearing from her soon.”

And just like that…a teaching business was born.

About seven years have passed since that fall day. That first student, with some of my help and a lot of studying, did pass the exam, as did my next two students. I left my staff interpreter position in 2016 to come to Montreal, and I began to take more and more private clients. They, in turn, have taught me valuable lessons. My own students have taught me how to value my time. To charge what I am worth. To understand the importance of what I do. They make suggestions about topics for webinars, tell me what they love about my classes, and bluntly inform me about how I can improve. Today, having finished my conference interpreting degree, I am a part-time interpreter and a full-time teacher. And as Thanksgiving approaches, I think I have a whole heck of a lot to be grateful for. I am grateful to everyone who has believed in me along my professional journey. To everyone who has encouraged me along the way. And, of course, I’m grateful to Grace.

And you? What are you grateful for? Who has helped you along as you wind your way through life? Please do share in the comments below.


Feature photo by H. Emre from PexelsArticle photo by Ann H from Pexels.


Portrait of Athena MatilskyAthena Matilsky fell in love with Spanish the year she turned 16. She chose it as her major at Rutgers University and selected a focus in translation and interpreting. After graduation, she taught elementary school in Honduras and then returned home to begin freelancing as a medical and court interpreter. She has since achieved certifications as a Healthcare Interpreter and a Federal Court Interpreter. She was the recent editor-in-chief of Proteus. Currently, she works as a freelance interpreter/translator and trains candidates privately for the state and federal interpreting exams. When she is not writing or interpreting, you may find her practicing acroyoga or studying French. Website: https://athenaskyinterpreting.wordpress.com/

Read other posts by Athena Matilsky.

15 Comments
  • Grace Borenstein
    Posted at 00:48h, 14 November Reply

    I saw with your writing is impeccable. I love you.

    • Grace Borenstein
      Posted at 01:11h, 14 November Reply

      You are a very bright woman who works very hard and deserves to get to the top of your chosen field. I’m very proud of you, Athena. ❤️

  • Jordan Borenstein
    Posted at 04:44h, 14 November Reply

    That’s my amazing mom!! It’s not surprising. Mom has that effect on many. ♥️

  • Rania Hijazeen
    Posted at 07:42h, 14 November Reply

    Thank you, Athena, for your sweet story. Everyone should have a “Grace” in their life. Mine was the late great Shuckran Kamal who did so much at ATA for Arabic. I will be forever indebted to her. It’s wonderful to see you be “Grace” to so many others now.

  • Maria E Ceballos-Wallis
    Posted at 14:34h, 14 November Reply

    Thank you Athena! We should all have a Grace. Mine is Maria Diaz from Miami, who took me under her wing the very first day we met at an interpretation class at FIU. She is still my friend, mentor and big sister. I try to do the same for others!

  • Raquel
    Posted at 15:45h, 14 November Reply

    Thank you Athena for your story, and wish you continued success in all your endeavors.
    I’m proud of my sister Grace and all her accomplishments

    Raquel

  • Virginia Valencia
    Posted at 15:56h, 14 November Reply

    We are all lucky that you have Grace, inspiring you to go way beyond your comfort zone, pushing you to the next level.

    Thanks to her, your students didn’t have to miss out on the amazing teacher that you are. Thanks to her, I get an outstanding collaborator (triple yay!).

    Some people simply have the gift to identify immense talent and then inspire, nudge, and guide it towards greatness.

    Thank you, Grace! And thank you, Athena, for taking her up on each challenge, thus making the interpreting community better, brighter, and way more fun.

    • Grace Borenstein
      Posted at 00:22h, 16 November Reply

      Virginia, I’m so happy for your success too!

      • Valencia Virginia
        Posted at 00:34h, 20 November Reply

        So sweet of you, Grace! Thank you.

        You really do live up to your beautiful name.

        Abrazos.

  • Carola Green
    Posted at 00:59h, 15 November Reply

    On the legal side, I credit Allee Alger-Robbins (CA-FCCI) who encouraged me to become a court interpreter back in 1991 when we met while taking a French class. Her encouragement led me to first become a CA state court interpreter and then take the federal certification exam. On the healthcare side, I credit Linda Haffner (Director of Interpreter Services at Stanford in 1996, I think) who encouraged me to get involved in starting CHIA and working on COE and SOP plus then becoming a founding member of NCIHC and joining the STC. As a trainer of interpreters, I credit Cindy Roat who generously shared her expertise so I could learn to teach others. I am honored to have such awesome and talented women mentor me and in the process become not just colleagues but friends too.

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 03:41h, 16 November Reply

    Inspiring as always, Athena.

  • Carmen Mustile
    Posted at 17:42h, 16 November Reply

    Athena, I took classes from you, and I could see your motivation to succeed and improve the great profession of interpreting, which has a large area of errors…for us women who tend to be perfectionist, it is inspiring to see the emotional and professional connectivity among you all. You all, have been my mentoring pulse in guiding my motivation to keep the omnipresent drive to study and improve my interpreting skills. Thank you all!

  • Gonzalo Tobar-Marquez
    Posted at 19:13h, 16 November Reply

    Hi. So many people to be grateful for. I think I should list them chronologically: Eduardo, Humberto, Jorge, Mercedes, Ariela, Athena. Peeps that either helped me or and/or opened up doors for me.

  • Gonzalo Tobar-Marquez
    Posted at 19:17h, 16 November Reply

    and Ella!

  • Athena Matilsky
    Posted at 14:33h, 17 November Reply

    Hello everyone,
    It is wonderful to see all of these responses. I’ve heard from even more people privately, telling me about the people who have inspired them and helped them in their journeys. Let’s keep sending our mentors appreciation and remembering what we have to be grateful for. The time is ripe for positivity right now. 🙂

    Warm regards,
    Athena

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